Why is there a shortage of airline pilots? 6 reasons

Go to any airport this summer, and you’ll likely find brutally long security lines and a wave of cancellations and delayed flights. Feather Fourth of July Holiday Weekend Alone, more than 12,000 flights were delayed and hundreds were canceled due to bad weather, high fuel prices, inflation and staff shortages.

The biggest challenge for airlines across the country? lack of pilots. Major airlines are looking to hire 12,000-13,000 people this year and in 2023 and around 8,000 in 2024. Frontier Airlines is hiring. From Australia. Delta Air Lines dropped Four-year degree required for pilots. And American Airlines plans to hire 4,000 pilots by 2023. A significant slowdown in the economy could affect their future recruitment plans.

lack has indicated pilot union In recent weeks to demand increased and operational changes, which have left them to work more and feel more fatigued, leading to serious safety concerns.

“It’s an intense job,” says Henry H. Hartvelt, longtime aviation analyst and president of the Atmosphere Research Group, “and there aren’t enough of them.”

So what’s really behind the pilot shortage?

1. Boomer is retiring

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all pilots to fly their last flight by their 65th birthday, and they cannot fly again after that, regardless of their health or ability. Most pilots are retiring because of age: at least 5,773 retire each year as they reach the mandatory retirement age of 65. By 2029, not a single baby boomer will be able to legally fly a commercial aircraft, says Mark Baer, ​​CEO of Aviation Manual and an aviation safety expert and licensed commercial pilot.

There is talk of a proposal to raise the retirement age by two years to 67, which would allow more pilots to continue flying. Younger pilots would probably prefer to keep the rule, says Hartevelt, because they stand to get promotions and increased pay.

2. Pandemic shrinks workforce

In April 2020, airline passenger numbers fell 96% in a single day, prompting airlines to worry about their existence. By the time the CARES Act was passed to help employers keep employees on the payroll, some airlines sold and retired aircraft, and some airlines, including Delta and American Airlines, cut up to a third of their workforce. Airlines offered early retirement packages to senior pilots, some of whom were making anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000 a year. Today, if those pilots returned to flying, they would lose seniority and start at the bottom of the pay scale.

3. Becoming a Pilot Takes Time

It usually takes three years to accumulate the 1,500 hours of flight time required to apply for an air transport pilot license, which is required to fly a commercial airliner or commercial cargo aircraft. After an airline crash in 2009, the FAA increased the required hours from 250 to 1,500. There is some talk about reducing the number of hours for a license amid the reduction, but changing this rule could be political, as no one wants to be held responsible. An airline accident due to lack of training.

4. Getting a Pilot’s License is Expensive

It costs about $10,000 to obtain a private pilot’s license, a 35% increase from the 1970s, often considered the golden age of general aviation. “Flying used to be a more affordable hobby and so more people were able to participate in it, but it really isn’t anymore,” says Mark Baer, ​​CEO of Aviation Manual and an aviation safety expert and licensed commercial pilot.
A commercial pilot license is far more: it can cost up to $100,000, which can be a major deterrent for those pursuing the profession. With this in mind, American Airlines recently began offering financing to help people train to become pilots for the airline.

5. Everyone else in the world needs pilots too

In the past, airlines recruited directly from the military, but even the US Air Force is facing Shortage of pilots. Airlines around the world are hiring aggressively, as are regional airlines and cargo airlines such as UPS and FedEx.

Hiring for large airliners such as American Airlines, Delta, United and Southwest is easier than for smaller airlines. But they are generally attracted to regional airlines – some of which belong to the same airlines. This would eventually wipe out the number of short trips that flow across the country. Regional airlines have already stopped, or will end, service in more than 50 US cities as of November 1.

“It’s a Darwinian environment where the survival of the most economically fit wins out,” Hartveld says.

6. US Airlines Are Now Starting Only Training Schools

Over the years, foreign airlines such as Lufthansa and Japan Airlines have recruited people with no experience and trained them to become pilots. It wasn’t until the last few months that United jumped into the business of training a pipeline of future pilots. It took over a program in Goodyear, Arizona, once run by Lufthansa, and renamed Aviate Academy, In 2018, American Airlines debuted its own American Airlines Cadet Academy, which has four positions, 650 cadets and 90 graduates. other academies, including Delta’s Propel Program And Skyborne AcademyNew pilots are also being trained quickly.

Yet even after those pilots are trained, it can take three to four years for the first wave of new pilots to appear in airplanes.


Deficiency problems will likely persist over the next 18 to 24 months, Hartvelt says. Regional routes will begin to disappear, smaller airlines will struggle, and new airlines will be unlikely to start. The result is fewer options and possibly less competition, and potentially higher airfare and constant cancellations and delays. But every month, Harteveldt predicts, there’s a possibility that flights will improve incrementally.

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